Booker Bravely Boosted Bain

MurphyAndBookerMeetThePress2010-10-25.jpg “Cory A. Booker, right, the Democratic mayor of Newark, on “Meet the Press” with Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist. “Enough is enough,” Mr. Booker said of attacks in the presidential race.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Romney was criticized for his past association with Bain Capital which was criticized for its role in the process of creative destruction. Democrat Cory Booker, to his credit, defended Bain. (But to his discredit, he later went wobbly when fellow Democrats were appalled by his defense.)

(p. A15) Mayor Cory A. Booker of Newark, a prominent Democrat enlisted as a surrogate for President Obama’s campaign, sharply criticized it on Sunday for attacking Mitt Romney’s work at the private equity firm Bain Capital.

Mr. Booker, speaking on the NBC program “Meet the Press,” made his comments in response to a television advertisement the president’s campaign unveiled last week. It portrays Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, as someone who eliminated jobs for the sake of profits during his years running Bain Capital.
“I have to just say, from a very personal level, I’m not about to sit here and indict private equity,” Mr. Booker said. “To me, it’s just we’re getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I’m very uncomfortable with.”

For the full story, see:
RAYMOND HERNANDEZ. “Newark Mayor Criticizes Obama’s Ad.” The New York Times (Mon., May 21, 2012): A15.
(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 20, 2012, and has the title “Surrogate for Obama Denounces Anti-Romney Ad.”)

Google Was Lax in Killing Failed Projects

(p. 255) Oddly, whereas Google had built its data infrastructure to reroute around failure, it had no human infrastructure to deal with failed projects. “We didn’t know which ones they were, because we never paused to ask ourselves that question,” says Pichette. “The people working on that project know it’s failing– as senior management you have to say, ‘Let’s declare failure– let’s get the champagne out and kill this puppy. Then we can put you on stuff that’s really cool and sexy.'” That had always been part of Google’s philosophy, but whether from lack of rigor or just distraction, the company had been lax in actually issuing execution orders. One of the first puppies Pichette helped drown was a virtual-reality-style communications program called Lively.

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Foreign Aid Frees Despots from Having to Seek the Consent of the Governed


Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.

(p. 4) IN his new book, Angus Deaton, an expert’s expert on global poverty and foreign aid, puts his considerable reputation on the line and declares that foreign aid does more harm than good. It corrupts governments and rarely reaches the poor, he argues, and it is high time for the paternalistic West to step away and allow the developing world to solve its own problems.

It is a provocative and cogently argued claim. The only odd part is how it is made. It is tacked on as the concluding section of “The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality” (Princeton University Press, 360 pages), an illuminating and inspiring history of how mankind’s longevity and prosperity have soared to breathtaking heights in modern times.
. . .
THE author has found no credible evidence that foreign aid promotes economic growth; indeed, he says, signs show that the relationship is negative. Regretfully, he identifies a “central dilemma”: When the conditions for development are present, aid is not required. When they do not exist, aid is not useful and probably damaging.
Professor Deaton makes the case that foreign aid is antidemocratic because it frees local leaders from having to obtain the consent of the governed. “Western-led population control, often with the assistance of nondemocratic or well-rewarded recipient governments, is the most egregious example of antidemocratic and oppressive aid,” he writes. In its day, it seemed like a no-brainer. Yet the global population grew by four billion in half a century, and the vast majority of the seven billion people now on the planet live longer and more prosperous lives than their parents did.

For the full review, see:
FRED ANDREWS. “OFF THE SHELF; A Surprising Case Against Foreign Aid.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., October 13, 2013): 4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 12, 2013.)

The book reviewed is:
Deaton, Angus. The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Successful Entrepreneurs Focus Their Attention

(p. A31) Most successful people also have a phenomenal ability to consciously focus their attention. . . .
Control of attention is the ultimate individual power. People who can do that are not prisoners of the stimuli around them. They can choose from the patterns in the world and lengthen their time horizons. This individual power leads to others. It leads to self-control, the ability to formulate strategies in order to resist impulses. If forced to choose, we would all rather our children be poor with self-control than rich without it.
It leads to resilience, the ability to persevere with an idea even when all the influences in the world say it can’t be done. A common story among entrepreneurs is that people told them they were too stupid to do something, and they set out to prove the jerks wrong.
It leads to creativity. Individuals who can focus attention have the ability to hold a subject or problem in their mind long enough to see it anew.

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID BROOKS. “Lost in the Crowd.” The New York Times (Tues., December 16, 2008): A31.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 15, 2008.)

Income of Rich Is More Volatile than Income of Poor or Middle Class

VolatileIncomeAndSpendingGraph2013-10-25.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. C1) During the past three recessions, the top 1% of earners (those making $380,000 or more in 2008) experienced the largest income shocks in percentage terms of any income group in the U.S., according to research from economists Jonathan A. Parker and Annette Vissing-Jorgensen at Northwestern University. When the economy grows, their incomes grow up to three times faster than the rest of the country’s. When the economy (p. C2) falls, their incomes fall two or three times as much.

The super-high earners have the biggest crashes. The number of Americans making $1 million or more fell 40% between 2007 and 2009, to 236,883, while their combined incomes fell by nearly 50%–far greater than the less than 2% drop in total incomes of those making $50,000 or less, according to Internal Revenue Service figures.
. . .
“High beta” is a term used in financial markets to describe a stock or asset that has exaggerated up and down swings with the market. Tech start-ups and casino stocks have high betas, for example. Yet studies show that today’s rich have higher betas than many of the riskiest gambling stocks. Between 1947 and 1982, the beta of the top 1% was a modest 0.72, meaning that their incomes moved relatively in line with the rest of America. Between 1982 and 2007, their beta soared more than three-fold.
What created high-beta wealth? Economists aren’t sure. The rise of the high-betas and the rise in inequality started at the same time, suggesting they have a common cause. Mr. Parker and Ms. Vissing-Jorgenssen cite new communication technologies that allow the best workers and products to be scaled over larger markets, thus making them more sensitive to economic changes. Others cite globalization and the rise of “winner-take-all” pay schemes.

For the full commentary, see:
ROBERT FRANK. “The Wild Ride of the 1%; The once-stable incomes of America’s biggest earners now fluctuate dramatically from year to year. And as go the rich, so goes much of the economy.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 22, 2011): C1-C2.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The Parker and Vissing-Jorgenssen paper is:
Parker, Jonathan A., and Annette Vissing-Jorgensen. “The Increase in Income Cyclicality of High-Income Households and Its Relation to the Rise in Top Income Shares.” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, no. 2 (Fall 2010): 1-70.

Google Gave YouTube Entrepreneurial Autonomy

(p. 250) But after the purchase [of YouTube], Google did something very smart. Almost as if acknowledging that overattention from the top had hobbled Google’s original video effort, the company made a conscious decision not to integrate YouTube. “They were edgy and small, and we were getting big,” says Drummond. “We didn’t want to screw them up.” (Google was also smarting from its $ 900 million acquisition of dMarc Broadcasting, a company dealing in radio advertising, which had not gone well. “They had tried more of a top-down approach with dMarc and considered that a disaster,” says Hurley.) YouTube would keep its brand and even stay in the building it had recently occupied in San Bruno, a former headquarters of the Gap.

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
(Note: bracketed words added.)

Greenspan’s Epiphany: As Entitlements Rise, Savings Fall


Source of book image:

(p. C11) In his new book “The Map and the Territory,” to be released on Tuesday, Mr. Greenspan, 87, goes on a hunt for what has gone wrong in American politics and in the U.S. economy.
. . .
Mr. Greenspan’s biggest revelation came one day about a year ago when he was playing with gross domestic savings numbers. What he found, to his surprise and initial skepticism, was that an increase in entitlements has closely corresponded to a decline in the country’s savings. “We had this extraordinary increase in benefits, with each party trying to outbid the other,” he says. “That practice has been eroding the country’s flow of savings that’s so critical in financing our capital investment.” The decline in savings has been partly offset by borrowing from abroad, which brings us to our current foreign debt: “$5 trillion and counting,” he says.
. . .
Studying the minutiae of the events leading to the financial crisis brought to mind some lessons from his famous friendship, from the 1950s on, with the late Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand.
. . .
Mr. Greenspan then believed in analysis based mainly on hard science and empirical facts. Rand told him that unless he considered human nature and its irrational side, he would “miss a very large part of how human beings behaved.” At the time they weren’t discussing economics, but today he realizes the full impact of emotions and instincts on markets. He also has come to admire psychologist and Princeton University professor emeritus Daniel Kahneman’s work applying psychological insights to economic theory, for which he won a Nobel Prize in 2002.
. . .
With his new book, Mr. Greenspan hopes to provide politicians and the public with a road map to avoid making the same mistakes again. His suggestions include reducing entitlements, embracing “creative destruction” by letting facilities with cutting-edge technology displace those with low productivity, and fixing the political system by encouraging bipartisanship.

For the full interview/review, see:
ALEXANDRA WOLFE, interviewer/reviewer. “WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Alan Greenspan.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the interview/review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title “WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Alan Greenspan: What Went Wrong; The former Fed chairman on where the economy went wrong, where he went wrong–and Ayn Rand.”)

The book discussed is:
Greenspan, Alan. The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.

How Adding Bike Lanes Increases Air Pollution

(p. A1) SAN FRANCISCO — New York is wooing cyclists with chartreuse bike lanes. Chicago is spending nearly $1 million for double-decker bicycle parking.
San Francisco can’t even install new bike racks.
Blame Rob Anderson. At a time when most other cities are encouraging biking as green transport, the 65-year-old local gadfly has stymied cycling-support efforts here by arguing that urban bicycle boosting could actually be bad for the environment. That’s put the brakes on everything from new bike lanes to bike racks while the city works on an environmental-impact report.
. . .
Cars always will vastly outnumber (p. A15) bikes, . . . [Mr. Anderson] reasons, so allotting more street space to cyclists could cause more traffic jams, more idling and more pollution. Mr. Anderson says the city has been blinded by political correctness. It’s an “attempt by the anti-car fanatics to screw up our traffic on behalf of the bicycle fantasy,” he wrote in his blog this month.

For the full story, see:
PHRED DVORAK. “San Francisco Ponders: Could Bike Lanes Cause Pollution?; City Backpedals on a Cycling Plan After Mr. Anderson Goes to Court.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 20, 2008): A1 & A15.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed name, added.)

Creating Parking Spaces by Variable Meter Pricing Saves Time and Reduces Air Pollution and Double-Parking

SanFranciscoStreetParking2013-10-25.jpg “San Francisco is a city chronically plagued with a shortage of street parking. On a recent night in the North Beach neighborhood, the slow chase for a parking space was well under way.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) SAN FRANCISCO — The maddening quest for street parking is not just a tribulation for drivers, but a trial for cities. As much as a third of the traffic in some areas has been attributed to drivers circling as they hunt for spaces. The wearying tradition takes a toll in lost time, polluted air and, when drivers despair, double-parked cars that clog traffic even more.

But San Francisco is trying to shorten the hunt with an ambitious experiment that aims to make sure that there is always at least one empty parking spot available on every block that has meters. The program, which uses new technology and the law of supply and demand, raises the price of parking on the city’s most crowded blocks and lowers it on its emptiest blocks. While the new prices are still being phased in — the most expensive spots have risen to $4.50 an hour, but could reach $6 — preliminary data suggests that the change may be having a positive effect in some areas.

For the full commentary, see:
MICHAEL COOPER and JO CRAVEN McGINTY. “A Meter So Expensive, It Creates Parking Spots.” The New York Times (Fri., March 16, 2012): A1 & A3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 15, 2012.)

MetersWithVariablePricing2013-10-25.jpg “San Francisco has installed sensors and new meters on some blocks to track where cars are parked and set prices accordingly.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

If Feds Stalled Skype Deal, Google Would Have Been “Stuck with a Piece of Shit”

Even just the plausible possibility of a government veto of an acquisition, can stop the acquisition from happening. The feds thereby kill efficiency and innovation enhancing reconfigurations of assets and business units.

(p. 234) . . . , an opportunity arose that Google’s leaders felt compelled to consider: Skype was available. It was a onetime chance to grab hundreds of millions of Internet voice customers, merging them with Google Voice to create an instant powerhouse. Wesley Chan believed that this was a bad move. Skype relied on a technology called peer to peer, which moved information cheaply and quickly through a decentralized network that emerged through the connections of users. But Google didn’t need that system because it had its own efficient infrastruc-(p. 235)ture. In addition, there was a question whether eBay, the owner of Skype, had claim to all the patents to the underlying technology, so it was unclear what rights Google would have as it tried to embellish and improve the peer-to-peer protocols. Finally, before Google could take possession, the U.S. government might stall the deal for months, maybe even two years, before approving it. “We would have paid all this money, but the value would go away and then we’d be stuck with a piece of shit,” says Chan.

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Entrepreneurial Spirit Values “Voyaging into the Unknown”


“Edmund Phelps, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for economics.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. C7) Edmund Phelps’s “Mass Flourishing” could easily be retitled “Contra-Corporatism,” for at its heart this fine book is an attack on that increasingly common “third way” between capitalism and socialism. Mr. Phelps cogently argues that America’s current economic woes reflect a reduction in the innovative dynamism that generates economic success and personal satisfaction. He places little hope in the Democratic Party, which “voices a new corporatism well beyond Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society,” or in Republicans in the thrall of “traditional values,” who see “the good economy as mercantile capitalism plus social protection and social insurance.” He instead yearns for legislative solons who “could usefully ask of every bill and regulatory directive: How would it impact the dynamism of our economy?”
. . .
The book eloquently discusses the culture of innovation, which can refer to both an entrepreneurial mind-set and the cultural achievements during an age of change. He sees modern capitalism as profoundly humanist, imbued with “a spirit that views the prospect of unanticipated consequences that may come with voyaging into the unknown as a valued part of experience and not a drawback.”
. . .
In . . . [the] new corporatism, the state protects both organized labor and politically connected companies. and the state has acquired a “panoply of new roles,” from regulations “aimed at shielding companies or workforces from competition” to lawsuits that “add to the diversion of income from earners to those receiving compensation or indemnification.” It is as if “every person in a society is a signatory to an implicit contract” in which “no person may be harmed by others without receiving compensation.” But protection against all conceivable harm also means protection against almost all change–and this is the death knell of dynamism and innovation.
. . .
But what is to be done? The author wants governments that are “aware of the importance of the role played by dynamism in a modern-capitalist economy,” and he disparages both current political camps. He has a number of thoughtful ideas about financial-sector reform. He is no libertarian and even proposes a “national bank specializing in extending credit or equity capital to start-up firms”–not my favorite idea.

For the full review, see:
EDWARD GLAESER. “How to Unleash the Economy.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C7.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed word, added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Book Review: ‘Mass Flourishing’ by Edmund Phelps; Innovative dynamism is the key to economic success and personal satisfaction, a Nobel-winner argues.”)

The book under review is:
Phelps, Edmund S. Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.


Source of book image: